CHARLIE KING AND KAREN BRANDOW: On the Journey
Available from Charlie and Karen at 20 Severance St., Shelburne Falls, MA 01370;
Another excellent effort by this talented pair, this CD includes fourteen songs, some of which will make you laugh and some of which will make you cry. Some, like "Martin and the Crooked Man," which is one of the greatest parodies of all time, will do both. Five of the songs, including "Martin and the Crooked Man", were written by Charlie and three of them have lyrics co-written by Karen. The rest are attributed to various writers--including two by Pete Seeger, "Old Devil Time" and "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," which seems just as appropriate as it did nearly forty years ago.
Except for the two bonus tracks, all of the songs were recorded live at a concert in Tucson, Arizona in April 2005. The arrangements are simple, tasteful, and varied, with both Karen and Charlie playing guitar. Sometimes they create their wonderful harmony, and sometimes they sing separately; on one track Charlie does a recitation of part of a speech originally given by Ossie Davis which will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
As usual, it is very difficult to characterize this recording because of the wide variety of material on it, but it's safe to say that if you are a Republican or a Bush supporter you would not be comfortable listening to it.
JALAN CROSSLAND: Poorboy Shanty (2000); Moonshiner (2004).
Boom Chicken Rekkerds. Available from Jalan Crossland, PO Box 547, Ten Sleep, WY 82442
Jalan Crossland has been well-known around the Western Upper Midwest for some years, having won pickin' contest prizes and such, most notably the National Fingerstyle Championship honors in 1997 and the Wyoming State Championship Flatpick Title in 1999. My personal mission is to ensure that all Westerners have heard of him!
Although grounded in folk, his music reaches out to touch--if not fully embrace--contemporary styles (new-grass, rock, country, even jazz). Many of his lyrics are thoroughly 21st century, kind of modern-rural, as on the delightful "Woodpecker and the Stovepipe" from Poorboy Shanty, the bleak "Coleman Stove" and the hilariously unflattering character studies of "Bosler," "Big Horn Mountain Blues," and "Chicken Trucker" from Moonshiner. Other songs stick to traditional subjects, such as poverty, the Civil War, courtship, and booze, but you'll find a little turn of phrase here, a bit of irony, sarcasm, or oddball goofiness there that remind you that this is a young, modern minstrel. His reworkings of traditional material ("Little Beggarman," "Look Up Yonder," "9-Pound Hammer," "Temperance Reel," "Trouble In Mind," "Moonshiner," "Sally In The Garden") are fine examples of the folk process today! High points for me are the deadpan humor of "A Minstrel's Wage," the poignancy and musical beauty of "Shadows of Crows," and the amazing & tasty guitar sounds on "Look Up Yonder," all from Poorboy Shanty; and the blue-collar stories of "Chicken Trucker," "Paper Dolls," and "Red Dirt," from Moonshiner.
Jalan plays guitar and 5-and 6-string banjo, and sings excellently. On some tracks he is accompanied by various instruments and combinations of instruments, such as mandolin, fiddle, bass, and percussion. Recommended? I wouldn't let go of these two CDs for all the Percoset and RC Cola in Ten Sleep, Wyoming.
VARIOUS ARTISTS: Songlinks Two, a Celebration of Traditional English
Songs and their American Variants
Fellside Recordings FECD-109-D.
Box 40, Workington, Cumbria, United Kingdom, CA143GJ.
Disc One of this self-descriptively titled two-disc set presents us with 18 traditional English folksongs recorded by a group of singers from the current British folk music revival. Disc Two shows what became of those songs when they crossed the wide Atlantic to America (the lyrics to all 36 songs are included!). Under the general stewardship of Martyn Wyndham-Read, with copious and extensive notes by Shirley Collins, this set follows in the footsteps of the first Songlinks recording, which documented the linkage of English and Australian songs.
From the Copper Family, Benji Kirkpatrick, The Devils Interlude, Jim Causley, and Emily Portman (the British artists) to Sarah Grey, Jeff Davis, Skip Gorman, Jody Stecher, and Sheila K. Adams (the American ones), and from the Old World versions to their New World counterparts, the forged musical links show the extraordinary journeys taken by some songs from their British origins to their distant new homes in various parts of America, from the New England hills to the Appalachian Mountains to the distant landscape of New Mexico. All cuts are noteworthy, but some personal favorites and highlights include Skip Gorman's rendition of "Clayton Boone" and Benji Kirkpatrick's rendering of its British ancestor, "Draggle-Tail Gypsies-O"; Jody Stecher's "Tary Trousers," the Copper Family's version of "Babes in the Woods"; "Pretty Sylvia" as performed by Jeff Davis; "Locks and Bolts" rendered by Martyn Wyndham-Read; and John Kirkpatrick's version of "Bow Down to the Bonny Broom."
One (very) slight quibble I have is the organization of the songs--I would have preferred that the songs be organized in parallel on the discs, so that the American variants to the British songs were easier to find and enjoy--but this is a minor blip on an otherwise marvelous musical landscape. Martyn Wyndham-Read has promised more such Songlink projects to come, but for now, we have these first two, and Songlinks Two is a wonderful tour of the traditional song on both sides of the Atlantic and a must for any serious fan of the genre of Anglo-American music. Naturally, this one comes very highly recommended.
ALISON McMORLAND, GEORDIE McINTYRE, KIRSTY POTS: Ballad Tree
Tradition Bearers TLCD-1051. PO Box 26264, Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland KA2-OLG;
This recording, featuring three of Scotland's best singers, is a ballad lover's feast and a joy to the rich heritage of the traditional ballad in Scotland's rich and centuries-old musical heritage. All eleven selections come from the Child ballad collection, and all show off just what master singers can do with the classic ballads telling their wonderful, memorable, and often mysterious tales through music and song. Alison McMorland, Kirsty Pots, and Geordie McIntyre, aided by fellow musicians Robb McKillor on lute, Bill Taylor on psaltery and bray harp, and Steve Sutcliffe on concertina, sing ballads ranging from the bizarre and supernatural to tales of tragic love, with even a comic ditty now and then. The ballads include "King Orfeo," "The Wife of Usher's Well," "Tam Lin," "Lamkin," "Lover's Ghost," and "The Daemon Lover." This recording shows why the very best songs and stories are the very old songs and stories. Listen to this recording and understand how McMorland, McIntyre, and Pots demonstrate that the Scottish ballad tree is firmly planted in Scotlands rich musical soil, and produces such delectable musical fruit.